A Computer Club(house)

When I reflect upon my short career in education, I think it is nothing short of extraordinary what I have learned since I started. So much of the “stuff” I deal with today is based upon what I have learned since I started. The genesis of what I apply in my job, of course, had a much longer history (learning LOGO in 1980; taking BASIC classes in 1981-1983; first use of Photoshop in 1991; visiting NeXTWorld and meeting Steve Jobs in 1991; co-founding a computer business while in high school with a best friend, etc., etc.). For me, what I get to do is an application of a lifetime’s worth of experiences.

From 2003-2007 I started learning about the constructivist-based learning projects that came out of MIT, specifically because of our pioneer, Seymour Papert. His brand of psychology of learning was called constructionism, and his protege, Dr. Mitch Resnick, went on to help develop Scratch. Among his experiences, he participated in a number of after school computer clubs for kids, in an effort to help them develop skills in computer programming and to gain practice in the “art” of design thinking.

I have met Resnick on two occasions (at Scratch conferences at MIT in Cambridge) and consider him one of my heroes in the cross-section fields of education and technology.

It was with special interest to learn several years ago that a student at BES had started his own Scratch club. I am not sure he’ll ever know how proud I am of him wanting to a) share his passion for using Scratch and b) starting an after-school club. I remember telling Ms. Cantor after going to our first Scratch conference together how important it was that we establish some after-school clubs in Goochland using this software. I felt we had a moral obligation.

Real life got in my own way.

So it was with especial renewed interest to find this year, that our new elementary ITRT, Ms. Parrish, set out to establish her own computing club at GES. I’ve stayed out of it, but today I paid a very short visit to discover what they have been up to. I found a number of eager students, across different grade levels, using the Khan Academy’s programming modules to apply their understanding of Javascript to drawing and starting animation.

What I saw, I think, was remarkable, for several instances of evidence.

  1. Every student was independently engaged in their own task. I can’t say it was the most social of experiences, but I witnessed a lot of experimentation going on with many students. “What happens if I change this value? What happens if I add a new variable? Oh look! I got it to move the way I wanted!!”
  2. I saw students helping students overcome challenges. While Khan basically allows you to learn on autopilot, it was satisfying to see some students helping their peers.
  3. I witnessed the joy of play. Some students were playing a few of the games they wanted to learn to create. These projects they want to create weren’t mere academic exercises, they were real things like entertaining games.
  4. Students were thoughtful and deliberate. I talked with students who knew what they were trying to accomplish and, in one case, felt “inspired.” One student displayed for my benefit a picture she had saved and easily retrieved on her iPad, of a Monsters, Inc. character she had drawn in Javascript. Once she displayed it for me, she set up her iPad next to the laptop, as if the little one-eyed monster was a muse to serenade her onto learning how to animate her character.

I hope to pay them a visit again soon, and I want to record a podcast with Ms. Parrish and the students in her club. I am proud that in Goochland we have our own computer clubhouse. I have a feeling Dr. Papert would be proud.

Kudos to our club members and their mentor, Ms. Parrish.